- It takes a personalised approach to understanding young people's needs and situation
- Nearly half of participants progressed to work, training or education placements last year
From HR speed dating to interactive theatre sessions, the Drive Forward Foundation offers a bespoke service to care leavers to get them job ready. Often, this means more than just help with CV writing and interview skills; these are young people who have been abused, neglected and abandoned, and who have often experienced multiple and frequent disruptions in their lives. As a result, they may need additional support, from drop-in sessions on mindfulness to group therapy.
The charity's four employment consultants are responsible for about 30 young people aged between 16 and 26 at any one time. Most are referred by local authority leaving care teams or Job Centres, the remainder by housing associations or through the foundation's outreach work at its hubs in Enfield, Haringey, Camden, Lambeth and Hackney.
The moment a care leaver walks through the doors of the foundation's headquarters in Waterloo, they are allocated their own employment consultant, who will have been trauma trained. At that initial meeting, there will be an assessment.
"It's very much career focused," explains chief executive Martha Wansbrough, "but through that in-depth conversation we may learn about mental health or housing issues they have, as well as more about their family situation - if they are in touch with their birth parents, what kind of relationship they had with their foster family. It's very much about building relationships. We care about the one-to-one support: that is how we engage young people and that is why they come back."
After that initial assessment, the young person is invited to come in on a regular basis. They are set monthly goals, tailored to their capabilities. They also have access to informal sessions such as the charity's weekly lunch club, where they can socialise with their peers and chat to professional volunteers, and their own mentor.
"The way you make a young person feel important is to give them time; a young person needs that constant reinforcement," says Wansbrough. "It says, ‘you matter - we want to understand what your needs are', and exposes them to adults who aren't being paid to engage with them."
Volunteers play an important part in the charity's work - not just at its lunch clubs and through its mentoring scheme but also as part of its Coffee Break and Aim Higher Day initiatives, which offer care leavers a glimpse of life in a particular industry or organisation. Other innovative approaches include Forum Theatre: interactive theatre sessions led by professional actors to teach employability skills in which participants are invited to try to resolve a conflict by suggesting changes in behaviour to produce a more positive outcome.
The foundation uses "success factors" to measure a young person's work readiness, from having a positive support network in place to "employment resilience" - being able to cope with the stress of working life and the demands that are put on them.
Meeting these measures could take weeks or months. When the young person is ready they are put forward for opportunities. These are usually work experience, perhaps with one of the charity's well-established corporate partners such as American Express or Accenture. Some may be ready for paid employment into one of the ring-fenced internships for care leavers offered by organisations including the civil service. Apprenticeships are another option but, without a support network, the low wages, coupled with the cost of living in London, bring their own challenges for care leavers. Wansbrough says the support needed from employers is often more than just financial, which renders many apprenticeships unsuitable.
The charity's small size enables it to be flexible. Wansbrough says: "There isn't a set path. We don't want to push people in a direction they don't want to go in. It's very much about accompanying that young person on their journey."
In 2017/18, the foundation worked with 400 young people, including 258 new joiners. With its help, 51 found full-time jobs and 34 went into part-time employment. Another 56 secured work placements or internships and 16 got apprenticeships, while 23 went into further education.